So, the last biopic I wrote about, Get On Up, was not completely accurate in every fact they portrayed about the life of James Brown. The general gist was to show many of the trials he overcame while climbing his way to the top, and while a few facts here and there were stretched or glossed over, it was still a very well done movie with a lot of effort and a lot of heart.
This…THIS. Is NOT that kind of movie.
VH1 released Man in the Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story (not to be confused with the hit song) in August 2004, near one of the worst points of the famous pop star’s life. He had most recently been battling further child molestation charges, dangled his youngest child over a balcony, and a British man had just tricked him into letting him doing a documentary on him only to portray him further as a pedophile. Unlike the well-known 6-hour TV movie Jacksons: An American Dream that followed the story of MJ and his family growing up until his early adulthood (a special which, I might add, was a very-well done staple of entertainment in the lives of many people I know), this film just something that gets everything wrong from the beginning. The acting is wrong, the casting is wrong, the dialogue is wrong, the shots filmed & editing are wrong, the make-up is wrong…and that’s just the start. You may or may not have even heard of this lesser known special, or many of the actors involved (and most of them didn’t do too much afterwards). It suffers from the lackluster quality that many African-American-centered films did in the mid-2000s, but since this is a biopic of a figure many of us grew up with and loved in some capacity (big or small), there are reasons why the final product is something to be disgusted with.
You know the drill. It’s time for a list.
- Flex Alexander: If you’ve ever seen UPN’s One on One with Kyla Pratt & Robert RiChard (where ARE you, Bobby?!), you remember Flex as Pratt’s father on the show. You know, the goofy single dad that was always saying “FLA-DAP!” Yeah, that guy. He was pretty funny in his own way, and apparently used to impersonate Michael Jackson on the show a lot. Well, someone saw this and thought they should make a movie about it with him as the lead. First mistake. Yeah, Flex does a decent impersonation of MJ’s high voice as we know it, but here’s what all is wrong here, in NO particular order:
- He’s too tall.
- He’s too dark, and the make-up doesn’t hide it.
- MJ didn’t talk that high ALL THE TIME.
- He can’t dance nearly as good as MJ.
- The photos/memorabilia of MJ in transitions are ALL of Flex as MJ. This isn’t abnormal, but it’s extremely obvious.
- He plays him as naive, aloof and pathetic the entire time, and that’s just not entirely true. He was eccentric and he did have a childlike spirit about him, yes – but he did make himself business smart, and he didn’t just run around like an excited monkey chasing a banana all the time. Flex has one note from the director – MJ is a child. Jut stick with that and make it last for two hours.
- Parody: The whole thing just feels like a parody of Michael Jackson, rather than a movie celebrating his life, or even just documenting things that happened. It feels like someone slapped on some crappy white face, started acting like MJ with one joke, but forgot what the punch lines were. If this was a 5-minute comedy sketch and we were supposed to find it funny, we might fund parts of it funny and move on (such as plenty of other shows were doing at the time with jokes about his nose, skin color, etc.). However, this goes on…and on…and on. It feels like the movie, via Flex’s portrayal of Jackson, is yelling at us “MJ is so naive and goofy, laugh!” but then later it’s “MJ is sad, cry with us!” back and forth. This makes it too much to take seriously.
- Casting/Writing: Okay. I won’t bother looking up the names of any of these actors again like I did earlier, because it honestly doesn’t matter – you haven’t heard of anyone in this cast. (Most of them have this special within the top 4 projects they are known for on their IMDb page, which is not a good sign for their career.) The gentleman who plays Joe Jackson is written off just as a good-for-nothing jerk who you’re not supposed to care about. If you watch An American Dream or privy yourself to Jackson 5 history, you learn that while Joe was mean and drove the boys a lot growing up, he did have love for his boys and looked out for them as they grew up. Lisa Presley, who Jackson married in the 90s, doesn’t look like her that much and is not that great an actress to begin with – decent case of underacting. Liza Minnelli, on the other hand, is now very much overacted. Good Lord – even for real life Liza Minnelli it’s a lot. And she was good friends with MJ during his life! Even the woman who MJ had his children with is somehow even blander than the real life woman. Diana Ross doesn’t look like Diana Ross…which, as an early influence on MJ, is pretty lousy. I could go on and on…but yeah. All of this is subject to bad writing AND casting. It’s the life of Michael Jackson, an important figure in music, pop culture and humanitarianism for decades, and you’re a music channel…you can’t even get good B-list actors to portray important figures in his life? No, just some fla-dapping? Okay.
- Story – The ONLY good thing about the story is that other events impacting the country at the time are included in the film, such as the 911 attacks. Otherwise, the movie skirts around negative experiences MJ had with his family and the world while he lived in Neverland, but plays around with the details a LOT…or other times it jumps ship to avoid the details. Throughout the film, MJ lives in Neverland, completely avoiding typical social graces or the outside world, trying to live as a child; when faced with bad situations, he just says “I can fix anything” or ignores good advice by others quickly saying “you don’t believe in this place! [Neverland]” while his bodyguard/life coach “Bobby” (ever heard of him? I ain’t.) tries to tell him to grow up and stop tampering with his image. There’s a tagged on ending where MJ says, via voice-over, that he will face his charges and face his fears knowing what his fans are with them. Okay??? With Get On Up, even when facts were wrong, they at least accomplished what they wanted clearly, which I stated earlier. What does this movie want to tell us? “Michael Jackson had (or as this time, ‘has’) some struggles, but he’s…going to deal with them, I guess” – the problem here is that this movie was released right in the heat of more of his problems! We didn’t know what the outcome would be yet!! So what are we supposed to get out of this? There’s nothing comforting in the slightest to offer us, and then it doesn’t end – it just stops. That’s not MJ’s fault, because history was still writing itself – I just wish the movie would have waited for things to settle. It could have been a much more clever look into his psyche at the time – nope, cheesy ending where he does a voice over. Kewl.
- Make-up: MY LORD IN HEAVEN, THIS MOVIE’S MICHAEL JACKSON IS SOOOO UGLY. Let me explain: real-life MJ after his plastic surgery…wasn’t very attractive. Yes, it was a big shocker and it was scary. (This film tries to say that he did it just to get a new look for his next album…when his skin condition added much more to the rationale.) FLEX ALEXANDER MAKES AN UGLY MICHAEL JACKSON. And this is not his fault – he is a naturally kind of dark black man, and the pale-face make up is not done nearly well enough to even look as creepy as real-life MJ did – I personally think it’s worse. He instead looks like a big grey scrawny monkey-ish type of figure. Also, his nose size barely changes, which is a big thing to miss in 2004.
- No Effort = No Respect: This is the all-encompassing issue with this film. If you are going to make ANYTHING about a person’s life, know what you hope to accomplish and do it. Most things about MJ’s life we see are setting out to honor his life and music. The opposite would be the documentary in the early 2000s that declared him as a child obsessing lunatic – this is sad, but it accomplished a preset goal. Man in the Mirror did not know what it wanted to do. Sometimes it tries to honor MJ, other times it’s stating facts about what happened to him, and other times it truly feels like it is bashing him. The main issue that creates this mess – NO EFFORT. NOT A SINGLE CRAP WAS GIVEN. This is why the editing sucks. This is why Flex is so ugly as MJ. This is why the casting and directing is terrible. This is why the sets are boring. This is why the story is sketchy, rude, and lackluster. Because no one cared! No one cared about this man enough to give him a film even clear enough to pick a side. It throws the worst part of his life at us (the events that ushered into his downward spiral) and says “he kinda got in big trouble, but maybe he’ll be okay and some junk!” rather than “I will overcome, and so can you – make good choices and learn from mine” AT LEAST. It’s the laziest, most unbalanced, rudest type of way in which to approach talking about the true life, struggles and even accomplishments of someone’s life – by not taking the time to do it right.
Now, does it matter that it was a MJ movie? What if it had been about a local legend or your next door neighbor? What if it was about Ghandi, the Pope or Jesus? (We’ve all seen these.) If you’re going to deal with true lives and events, at least take the time to TRY doing it right. Changing some things here and there isn’t the best idea, but to just not even give a crap in your attempt and to remain ignorant of what the right approach is – this is the most disrespectful thing you can do. It’s like if I was a pastor who had to give a eulogy for your mother, and I knew one thing about her – she can’t cook. That’s all I talk about, I downplay what you loved about her, get the lamest sounding songs for the music selections, got a sound guy who didn’t know what he was doing, rolled out of bed & wore sweats to the funeral, and ended my speech with “she was all right, I guess. Okay, when’s the family dinner?”
(P.S. Yes, I was infuriated by the fact that BET was playing this among things to “honor MJ’s life on his birthday” when this does everything but honor anyone involved. I’m love his music and even though I don’t claim to be his biggest fan, I respect the genius/musician that he was, and I don’t think anyone deserves an effortless piece of work like this made about them, living or deceased.)